SEOUL, South Korea — As competition for jobs in South Korea's blue-chip companies gets tougher, young men are resorting to the plastic surgeon's knife to get a leg up the career ladder.
"My eyes were too slanted, which gave a bad impression. I had to get an operation done on my two eyelids before I went to my job interview," said sales executive S. J. Lee.
Lee, 25, paid $900 for the 40-minute operation that added the skin fold missing from Oriental eyelids, giving his face a Western cast.
Was it worth it? "Of course. Now I have a job."
A personnel manager for a large company confirmed that looks can make or break a job seeker's chances.
"Before, a person was chosen mostly on his academic grades and less emphasis was placed on his looks," he said. "If there was nothing major wrong with his looks, then it was OK. But nowadays, looks are important because we think the person will be able to present himself better, especially for sales, if he has a clean-cut image."
As South Korea became more affluent, women began flocking to cosmetic surgeons in droves, most of them seeking hollower cheeks, narrower noses and the extra eyelid-fold.
But the tendency for men to start altering their looks is a recent phenomenon. Doctors said it became apparent early last year.
A plastic surgeon in Seoul said his clinic receives about five inquiries a day from men seeking cosmetic surgery.
"Most of them have made up their minds before coming to us. They just want to be assured that it's the right thing to do," his nurse said.
It's big business and clinics will go the extra mile to attract customers.
"The clinic sent a car to pick me up at home and drove me back after the surgery," said Kim Kwang, a 28-year-old graphic designer.
A South Korean professor deplored the desire among young Koreans to look more Western.
"What's wrong with a flat nose? Why do we all need an extra fold in our eyelids?" he said.
Kim Kwang said he had become more outgoing since the surgery.
"I didn't like my looks, especially my eyes. After I got my eyelids down and larger eyes, I felt better and felt more confident of myself," he said.
"What's next?" said Kang Yoon-kyung, a mother of two. "Will parents start changing their baby's face?"
Perhaps, if the plot of a popular soap opera is anything to go by.
An extremely handsome couple meets, marries and gives birth. Unfortunately, the child is ugly, very ugly, to the dismay and puzzlement of the couple.
After several tortuous twists and turns in the story line, it turns out the child is the spitting image of his parents in their youth--before they both had cosmetic surgery.